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Harold Frailey (right) as he prepares to leave on a plane out of Saudi Arabia at the end of the Gulf War.

Veteran Harold Frailey -- going to Gulf War in an SUV

Not every American soldier had a chance to drive a civilian sports utility vehicle through Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War.

But Beecher City resident Harold Frailey did not have a typical mission when he arrived for duty in Desert Storm. The Marine veteran of the Vietnam War was assigned through the Army Reserve to check on the performance of Bradley Fighting Vehicles loaded with more horsepower as the military build-up for the war got underway.

“I was in charge of a mechanical unit for Phase II of the Bradleys with new 600 horsepower engines. I was in charge of testing sites and I went around with some of the fighting units, too. I was also making calls to Detroit and getting fixes needed,” Frailey recalled.

The Gulf War was the first true battlefield test for the Bradleys, which were armored personnel units topped with a turret, holding a 25 mm cannon, and rocket launchers. The vehicles were named in honor of World War II General Omar Bradley. There were concerns the new Bradleys might face engine problems from the tough conditions in the desert and the demands of combat. Or they might not stand up to enemy fire.

At age 50 and with the rank of major, Frailey drove all over to check on the Bradleys. His vehicle was a Nissan Pathfinder, supplied by the Japanese government as part of the non-combatant side of the Coalition of nations supporting American forces for liberating Kuwait. The cargo area was full of items, but his military equipment was pretty light.

“I carried a Colt .45 pistol mostly. I never fired it, though. I had a compass as my main point of navigation. You have to understand GPS was just getting online back then,” Frailey said with a grin. “I was lucky to have the job I had over there. I was footloose and fancy free most of the time.”

He saw different aspects of war before the ground war started in February 1991. He remembered an attack by Iraqi Scud missiles that shook up the military base in Saudi Arabia.

“Those Scuds were aimed at an airfield. It didn’t take us long to get into our bunkers,” Frailey said.

He witnessed some “shock and awe” coming from the American side as well.

“Along the border, I heard a big ‘vrooom vroom’ as B-52s were coming over on a bombing run. Then some other planes came over, but there were no bombs coming out of them. It was only leaflets,” he recalled.

It was a much different war landscape than in Vietnam. He had served with an artillery unit of I-Corps near Chui Lai in South Vietnam. In Vietnam, the terrain was heavy forest and hills. The enemy was hidden and used a network of tunnels to outflank American troops. Flushing the enemy was a tedious and dangerous task for American troops.

“Yes, the tunnels were around there. But I was too big to go into them as a tunnel rat. I had a friend who could go down in there,” Frailey said.

When the Gulf ground war broke out, Frailey was assigned to a Tiger Brigade of the Marine Corps. “I got to see how everything worked as it went,” he said.

He would see the aftermath of the war with death and destruction as he followed in the wake of the advancing forces. He also saw the official end of the war when Iraqis met in a camouflaged tent with General Norman “Storming Norman” Schwarzkopf and his staff.

“I was with a crew that helped set up the tents for the peace talks. After the Iraqis were finished, Storming Norman came out to talk with some of the soldiers. Some of them asked him why we weren’t heading for Baghdad. I think we should have kept going in ’91,” Frailey said.

He would go back to Iraq in 2004 after another war sent American troops into Baghdad and finished the Iraqi Army. But some of those disarmed troops – some who surrendered in droves in 1991 – would help form an insurgency that produced a bitter guerrilla war.

“I went back to Iraq as a civilian attached to the Corps of Engineers,” Frailey said. “I’m bitter about it. We should never have been over there to start with. No weapons of mass destruction were found. Nobody should have lost a life over it. Of course, the president never asked me,” Frailey said.

His service to the country has left him more than embittered. He has Parkinson’s Disease related to contamination from Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide spread throughout Vietnam to destroy the jungle foliage.

The burning oil wells, set by Iraqi troops at the end of the war, also affect him to this day.

“I have a shortness of breath due to the oil fires. Whenever there was change of wind with all the smoke and soot, you would have to wipe the oil off your face,” Frailey said.

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